Who Is Better, Online Poker Players or Live Poker Players?

Updated September 22, 2014

A heated debate has existed ever since players began learning the game of poker by playing online. Who is better, live poker players who gained their experience by sitting at real life casino tables, staring their opponents in the eyes, or online poker players, who multi-tabled their way through hundreds of thousands of poker hands?

There's not going to be an easy answer to this question and the debate continues. That is why it is our pleasure to present the following articles for you to read on the subject. Read Ivan Potocki's commentary on who reigns supreme, and then read Steve Ruddock's article, which questions whether online poker players are really better than live players.

We'd love to hear your opinion in this debate, so when you finish reading, please list your comments below!


Live vs. Online Poker Players: Who Reigns Supreme?

Posted by Ivan Potocki, September 22, 2014

I am aware that this debate is probably as old as online poker tournaments, but it never really gets “old”. Just when you think that people got fed up with beating a dead dog, a new spark comes out from somewhere and gives a new life to this discussion.

This time, it was Daniel Negreanu’s statement that he was certain he could beat the nosebleed poker games online if he really applied himself to that goal. Now, nobody can really dispute Negreanu’s results on the live tournament circuit, especially after adding the second place in the Big One for One Drop to the collection, but online poker is a different type of beast. Or that is at least what we are to believe.

Many players, even many reputable ones, laughed away the idea that ‘KidPoker’ could really make it in the high stakes games being spread on the virtual felt. And it wasn’t just words either – some of them were happy to put their money where their mouth was and bet against Negreanu after he mentioned that he would be willing to put a cool million on the line.

That bet will not happen any time soon, as Daniel mainly said it in the heat of the moment, but what is the real deal in the whole story? How can it be that players with great live results are considered severe underdogs in the world of online high stake games?

A thread on 2+2 from some time ago also revolved around this topic after another well known poker player, Olivier Busquet, tweeted that live poker was more like checkers, while online poker seemed more like chess. This naturally prompted a wave of heat coming from live players as it was, at some level, offensive.

The truth is this debate will never really come to an acceptable conclusion, as live and online poker are essentially two different games. They may have the same basic rules and attract to a great extent the same group of people, but differences between the two are vast.

Live poker players relay on a whole different set of skills and abilities – reading their opponents, selecting the games and tournaments they play in, having to figure out the costs away from the poker table if they travel to play etc. Online poker is more about volume – firing up as many tables as possible and still playing your A game, different tracking software like Poker Tracker and HEM and, of course, rakeback.

To be a good online player, you will most likely need to be able to break down the stats of your opponents and turn them into something to work with, be it what range of hands they have in certain situations or how often they fold to your re-steals after they raise. Live, these stats may exist, but are not really laid out for you and you have to swing it as you go. This is why live play is much more about feel.

Some, like Phil Ivey, have been hugely successful on both fronts and clearly being good in one will go a long way in helping you become good in the other, but it is not a given. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to make a successful transition or tackle the other world where you previously hadn't been a player.

So who reigns supreme? Probably neither. The best in both worlds have certain skills that got them there and this argument is slowly becoming ‘apples and oranges’ type of thing.


Ivan PotockiIvan Potocki is a veteran Titanbet Poker player who was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and spent part of his childhood under war conditions. He studied English language and literature and discovered Texas Hold’em while in college. After working different jobs he turned to poker full time and this serves as his main source of income.


Are Online Poker Players Really Better Than Live Poker Players?

Posted by Steve Ruddock, May 28, 2014

Ever since the onset of online poker in the late 1990s there has been a debate raging, and I'm not talking about Sheldon Adelson or online poker legalization. I'm referring to the still unanswered question of which type of poker player has more skill, the one who plays online poker or the one who plays live poker?

Live poker players often scoff at online poker players, claiming online players are totally reliant on software and math and couldn't pick up on a tell if their life depended on it. Online players are equally dismissive of their live brethren, fond of intimating that live players have little understanding of the math behind the game and are deficient in everything from proper bet-sizing to game theory.

It cuts both ways as both Phil Hellmuth and Jon Aguiar demonstrate below:


So who are the more skilled practitioners? In this column I'll sort through all the rhetoric and dig deep into the online poker vs. live poker debate for the real answer to this question, as well as a few surprising findings along the way.

Let's start off by propping up and tearing down both sides of the argument a little, because…


Both variants require different skills

Most people seem to ignore this simple fact, but live poker and online poker are different games and require different skills. What will make you successful in one arena will not necessarily make you successful in the other arena.  

There is certainly some overlap and some core skills needed to succeed in both, but there are also a lot of skills required for online play that are simply not needed at a live poker table, and vice versa.

The best players in the world understand this difference exists:



Skills needed to excel at live poker

1. You must be able to stave off boredom, because unlike online poker, when you’re playing live you can’t just open up another table.

2. You need to keep meticulous records, because you cannot rely on tracking software and there are far more unseen expenses involved with live play, from gas money to tipping.

3. You must be able to focus on your opponents and spot tells and physical cues, something that is entirely unnecessary in online poker.

4. You must understand how to use game and seat selection to find the most profitable spot (you could wait an hour for a seat to open up in a live game), most importantly the seat change button; yet another aspect of live poker that doesn’t occur online.

5. You need to be well versed in multiple games, because live poker has fewer games to choose from and sometimes the best games running are in different formats.



Skills needed to excel at online poker

1. You need to be able to multi-task (play multiple tables, watch HUDs, look up opponents) in order to get the most volume in, and to avoid the need to play high-stakes games. Online players generally prefer to participate in 12 $1/$2 NLHE games rather than in a single $10/$20 game, as it reduces variance, allows you to play more hands (read as: more rakeback) and the opposition should be softer.

2. You need to be able to make quick, rapid-fire, decisions because you’re going to be playing multiple hands every minute, especially if you’re a mass multi-tabler.

3. The ability to collect and analyze data is a must. This is perhaps the most critical skill in the modern online poker, as nothing will give you a bigger edge than understanding your opponents’ tendencies and analyzing your own play to formulate unexploitable strategies.

4. You need to have incredible tilt control as the decisions happen so fast. Because you are playing so many hands, and the decisions come one right after another it’s quite easy to get wrapped up in the game after a couple of successive bad beats, and complete monkey tilt is a real possibility when this happens.


So the skills required are different, but is there a difference in skill? And the answer is…


No, but online players certainly think so

Even though most of the old guard has come around and accepted online poker players as skilled players, online players still talk about live poker players very flippantly, and feel they are not fundamentally sound players.

Daniel Negreanu talks about this perceived mocking attitude in this short interview with the now defunct PokerRoad Radio:



So is there any truth to this notion? Are online players simply better versed in the fundamentals of the game?

In a study titled, Do pokers players know how good they are? Accuracy of poker skill estimation in online and offline players by T.L. MacKay, N. Bard, M. Bowling, D.C. Hodgins from the University of Nevada, the research team looked at 278 participants (all college aged) to see if online poker players had an overinflated sense of their skill level.

The participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire and rank their ability  on a score of 1-7, with a 1 being poor and 7 being excellent, and were also asked to describe their poker play (home games, casinos, and/or online) with the following breakdowns recorded:

online vs live poker study

The players then competed in a game of heads-up Texas Hold'em against a computer program which the researchers considered a "strong" opponent, and were graded on three separate scales; judged on the amount won, empirical luck and empirical skill.

Players were then asked to fill out yet another questionnaire asking them to rank how they feel they played against the computer.

So what did they find?



Online players were no more skilled than offline players, but, they were more likely to overestimate their skill level and to have higher levels of "gambling-related cognitive distortion" --the illusion of control. In essence, an online player feels that luck is less of a factor in their outcomes (even in the short-term) than a live poker player.

Gamblers with a preference for skill games often have a greater illusion of control over outcomes when compared to those that prefer games of chance, and while luck is less of a factor it's still more of a factor than some players are willing to give it credit for.

The study is absolutely fascinating, showing that online poker players not only overestimate their skill level but also feel like they have more control over the game than they really do.


Caveat: Online poker games are tougher… relatively speaking

Before you start running around proclaiming that there is no difference between live and online poker I do have one caveat: At the same stakes online poker is a much tougher game than live poker.

A game of $5/$10 No Limit Hold'em online is an absolute sharkfest, while the same game in a casino will likely have at least two legitimate fish in the lineup.

The reason was already presented above, which is online poker allows players to play at lower stakes and increase their volume by multi-tabling instead of needing to play at higher stakes.

So a player participating in a live $5/$10 NLHE game cannot simply play the same game against the same competition online because $5/$10 games online are populated by players who have the skill level to play $25/$50 NLHE live but are multi-tabling online.

twitter Capture Adam Small Poker

Final thoughts

Online poker is now over 15 years old (yeah I know it's hard to believe) and despite the coalescing of online and live poker a rift still exists between the two worlds, especially between the old guard of live poker players who have never given online poker a chance and the online players who have preconceived notions regarding the math skills of these old school players.

I’ve always thought of this as an odd debate, perhaps because I came into poker right as online poker was getting off the ground in the late 1990’s, so I had one foot in each world and could see the differences which has given me a healthy respect for both live-only and online-only players, and even greater level of respect for the players that can crush in both worlds.

So before you go around blasting live poker players, or online poker players, think about the differences, and why a live poker player may not be as versed in math or why an online poker player may not care about tells.

We should have a respect for each other's abilities and not scoff at their weaknesses. After all, does a sprinter laugh at a marathoner's lack of speed, or does the marathoner giggle at the sprinter's lack of stamina?


Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is a veteran writer in the poker and iGaming industry who covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. Follow Steve on Twitter at @SteveRuddock.



Further Reading:  

Titanbet Poker Benefits
Get Amazing Benefits by Signing Up

Poker and the Bible

texas hold'em

Texas Hold'em Poker Guide

poker better than sex

Why Poker Is Better than Sex


Who is better, online poker players or live poker players? Comment below and let us know!


Dear player,

This site is regulated for players located in the United Kingdom. Visit Titan Poker and enjoy similar games, features, promotions, and benefits!

Contact our 24/7 support team for assistance.

Visit Titanpoker.com